Quotes from better writers
Quotes from better writers
Look, I’m not getting much sleep lately,
so chalk this up to grumpiness, if you want.
Or the back spasms…
And I’m no prude, believe me.
But I am a man who’s old, so most
of you would’t notice me on the street.
I’m a tad bitter about that, you might say,
but have learned what’s important.
Maybe, you could just listen.
I get it: Sex sells,
fantasy sex sells cars and everything else..
All those selfies of you on FB, Instagram,
You posed coyly just to show your good side,
your amazing boobs or butt, the come-hither look.
(And yes, I notice. ) Continue reading “Dear Ladies”
Time… a deep river with a fast current,
the past always upstream.
You can try to go back,
try to swim against the flow,
but it’s no use. The current is too strong.
Oh, you might taste a memory,
But are soon worn out, and,
forced to tend to immediate problems.
Eventually just let the water
carry you along. It’s much easier.
There are shouts and cries of others.
The banks are near and sharp.
The past is out of sight and
mist hides everything ahead and behind.
The water is turbulent and dark.
You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re
right on them.
Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.
Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.
Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.
But always the flow pushes ever down,
through unseen dangers, into the future.
Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”
Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.
So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.
Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.
It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂
That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”
Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
“People will do anything,
no matter how absurd,
to avoid facing their own souls.”
Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course,
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who
didn’t, but should have).
I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,
Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
A new day rises for you, daughter,
Pushing the darkness and the mists of childhood away.
Many have stood on this same shore, you know, but
This hour is wholly fresh, is yours entire,
Awesome and terrifying.
Thrilling. Dangerous. Engaging.
“Am I up to it?” You wonder…
But, I’ll let you in on a secret:
Continue reading “Letter To A Young Friend”
When we grow skeptical of the comfortable
And slip under the velvet ropes of fear
sliding out over darker waters,
But still afraid, that’s when we grow.
Three times three times three,
Nine times nine times nine,
These are the inexorable multipliers of change.
There is no way to connect the dots looking ahead.
We can only connect them by looking back
At our footsteps in the shifting sands.
Our timid selves, still digging their toes in the sand and calling to us,
Seem safe, but choosing safety only is always a kind of death.
But…. It looks so much better there on shore.
But those who stay on the shore will never know the thrill,
Out on the deep waters where there is no bottom,
Where we realize that we’re not sinking, even though
We cannot yet see a visible means of support.
We all have themes we revisit over and over as writers. This is one of mine.
The signs are all around me,
The storm is raging still.
The wind brings sounds of battle,
From that far distant hill.
I thought this all was over,
I thought my race was run.
But just as I was resting,
My peaceful life’s undone.
Now one final trial:
My guts recoil in fear.
He’s coming soon, despite me,
I feel him drawing near.
Comes weary resignation,
And anger pushing blood,
Determined to leave honor,
Where once foul evil stood.
Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.
It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.
Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.
I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!
If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )
Who knows when fear arrives for us…
Perhaps the first is in the egg’s big moment,
When she, plump and frisky and motivated,
Feels the urgent “hey, baby, open up!” of a thousand horny
Sperm poking and stroking all sides of her
Like desperate sales clerks
After three slow months
And she’s the one customer with cash.
My first remembered brush with darkness
Was a nameless thing, because I could not yet form words.
I left my family in the living room and wandered around the corner.
I remember seeing the half-dark kitchen,
All shadows of familiar things turned strange In the gloom.
And toddled onward, lurching over to a corner.
Who knows what I was looking for.
I saw a mark on the linoleum
(I think my creepy brother had told me it was a bug, earlier, and I
was somehow drawn back to it)
There it was, but in the gloom, alone,
It seemed alive and growing, reaching for me.
I froze. And screamed. And fled.
I think that was the first time I’d felt totally alone,
Separate. Safety was gone, and that spot
Was everything that aloneness meant.
The bottom dropped out of my world
And sheer panic made my feet move,
Back toward the light, my parents
Sure something malevolent was following.
I remember hysterics—mine;
Unable to talk yet, I could only babble desperate sounds,
Trying to name a
Terror that no one could understand.
My father took my hand and let me stand in the door
While he turned on the kitchen light
Beckoned me over, and asked what I’d seen.
He was probably expecting a rat.
In the light, the terror, the prehensile primal fear
That had wrapped a tentacle around my chest
Uncoiled. Bit by bit.
It was just a bug-shaped stain on the floor.
I remember approaching it slowly,
Touching it with my toe.
“Go ahead, touch it with your finger,” he said, mildly
Ignoring my brother’s laughter from the other room
The monster shrank from the light, shriveled
And went back into nothing.
A remnant of a splotch of something dropped long ago.
But to this day, I believe that evil is real and
That it cannot
Live for long in the light.
Ah, I miss you Kate. What a woman.
And happy Monday, everyone! Break a leg.
My own fears make me their slave
My biggest shackle is the fear of letting go of my fears—and of not knowing what comes next.
Fear of the unknown. I choose this, not someone else.
I must name them, first. To know the fears. Their source.
Naming is owning. Owning is freedom.
Freedom with humility. Humility because fears always come back.
We are always vulnerable.
And fears live behind walls. Fears drive us to create walls. For them.
Walls make fears stronger. A spiral to utter failure.
Fear that. Not the unknown.
Fears make me their slave.
Humility and courage breaks the shackles
So I, we, can face whatever comes, every day.
It is never finished.
Stolen from Post Secret.
I don’t know for sure, but I think the next few decades are going to be hard on our children and grandchildren. They’re going to have to learn how to be tough, tough people. They will be tested more than we have, and I’m afraid we haven’t prepared them. The seas will rise, conflicts will grow and spread, and refugees will flood out away from it. Worse than now (I hope I’m wrong).
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
– Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum.
Every year it happens.
We’re awash in forced romance, urged to buy cards and chocolates
For the one we should be doing this for every day.
Never mind, we say again. It’s not for us.
After 47 years together we look at each other
And shake our heads, like we do every year.
We made a pact, decades ago, to ignore this phony “holiday.”
Instead, we tend to go quiet as we remember what it really
Took to be able to still look at one another with
Respect and deep affection and a simple gratitude that
It wasn’t any harder than it was.
We feel like those who’ve been through combat do,
Stripped of all illusions and gauzy sentiments.
We’ve survived the testing of souls, when so many haven’t,
And still treasure a deep, seasoned, clear-eyed love.
How hard it was…
“For better or worse,” and there was plenty of “worse”.
We don’t have any secret solution,
Just a fundamental comfort in still being able to look
Across the room at the other and say
“At least she’s not like that friend of hers from college,
The one I almost ended up with, the one that exuded
Sex from every pore. Who danced naked at a concert once and became a Scientologist
And took too many tabs of LSD. Who, after three husbands
And two women partners, is living alone with her ghosts in a one-bedroom
Mobile home on a scrubby street in California,
Just in those trees, over there, behind the tire store,
Feeding her 7 cats and talking to Jim Morrison and a
Retired blackjack dealer two doors down.
That’s not very romantic, but after all this time,
After all the things life throws at you,
It’s something to still be able to look across the room
And say “Yes. This has been good.”
Sometimes there’s nothing to go on but hope.
No proof, no guarantees. No winning lottery ticket. No rescue in the nick of time. No heroes to fix everything in a perfect 42-minute format, just after the last commercial.
Just hope. Just the kind of desperate courage that comes from nothing left to lose.
Maybe it’s the days in late winter when it begins to feel like nothing is going to thaw. Something quickens despite all the evidence, Despite all the weight of cold experience. Something feels the long rhythms, Something stirs in the depths of cold nights. Something that has been asleep, but shivers awake, when the moment is right.
Hope. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been. Foolish, delusional, ridiculous, irrational. Just hope. Something no one can steal. When everything else is stripped away, When everything is gone, and you don’t even have a psychic quarter left to make a phone call (and there aren’t even any pay phones left, anyway.)
But there’s something…. something down there.
Do you feel it, too?
Maybe. Just maybe.
Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good is’t to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”
The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
Mast bends, prow plunges, new gusts arrive,
The water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.
Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine’s coated me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars thru mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.
Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
We’ll find calm water and fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.
Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.
Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.
Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length
Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.
Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in song.
I’m still not sure how I got here,
I would really like to know how I got here.
It feels as though all of my life so far,
Has just been practice for ….what comes next.
I want things to be harder,
I want to push beyond what I thought was possible.
I want to be astonished, over and over.
I want to feel the aches and pains and get mad,
And ignore them like the bastards they are.
I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but no longer
Give two fucks in a velvet bag about that.
What happens next needs to be a mystery,
A surprise. I like surprises.
It might be a heart attack, I suppose,
But that’s really not a surprise.. more a cliche, really.
I just hope I’ll find a few things I didn’t know,
Somethings, really, each more wonderful, elegant, sublime,
Than the last.
What more to life could there be?
Well, maybe one thing: I hope some lovely dark beauty
Young enough to be my granddaughter looks twice and thinks,
I’ll take a piece of that!
And I’ll still want to oblige.
One of the best talks I’ve seen.
An old printer has sat in the dark
In my oldest’s neglected closet
For seven years,
Barely usable for a year
Before it was replaced.
$400 was the cost. I remember things like that,
Which tells you something…
Mainly that my parents survived
The Great Depression and WWII,
And it was “waste not, want not,”
Every damned day.
If I were to throw that printer out,
It would mean admitting that I spent
I can hear the disapproval even now.
Expensive mistakes have taught even me, finally.
A printer isn’t the worst of it, as much as
Falling hard for the wrong person,
(And who hasn’t done that?);
Or falling for the right person at the wrong time,
Or failing to see moments of joy inside pain;
Or not learning that true courage means acting despite great fear.
Or living too much on the surface of things;
And choosing blindness to the gift that is each day;
Or letting life make me ever smaller inside,
Instead of choosing the wisdom of wide arms,
Embracing the passing parade while it lasts.
The printer in the closet needs to go,
Because even expensive mistakes
Must be forgiven.
How difficult this would be, especially in our consumerist culture that fetishisizes instant gratification:
1. Accept everything just the way it is
2. Do not seek pleasure for its own sake.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, depend on a partial feeling.
4. Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.
5. Be detached from desire your whole life long.
6. Do not regret what you have done.
7. Never be jealous.
8. Never let yourself be saddened by a separation.
9. Resentment and complaint are appropriate neither for oneself nor others.
10. Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of lust or love.
11. In all things have no preferences.
12. Be indifferent to where you live.
13. Do not pursue the taste of good food.
14. Do not hold on to possessions you no longer need.
15. Do not act following customary beliefs.
16. Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what is useful.
17. Do not fear death.
18. Do not seek to possess either goods or fiefs for your old age.
19. Respect Buddha and the gods without counting on their help.
20. You may abandon your own body but you must
preserve your honour.
21. Never stray from the Way.
― Miyamoto Musshi
This was going to be just an anniversary rerun, happily marking one year today since my stroke. And I apologize for the need to make this a little darker than I’d intended. But I think you’ll see why.
I’m doing well, happier than ever, tapping deeper into the craft I love, and enjoying new friends —you— as never before. I’m living much more healthily, have lost 23-pounds on the way to 35 or more, and the satisfactions of this blog alone has reduced stress. I want to be around for a while, tasting the sweetness and bitterness of life in equal measure. I’ve never felt so alive. And so I thought to put up a simple marker to a very interesting and rewarding year.
But the Universe has a perverted sense of humor. Within the week, other news reminded us that there is bad with the good, and that what builds us up can tear us down, too. A meeting with a surgeon today told us what comes next for her.
Cancer. Again. Breast. Third time. Fourth diagnosis overall. The good part, if there is a good part, is that they caught it so early that it’s still at Stage Zero. Some more consultations are to come, of course. And ultimately, a major surgery. But, no chemo this time. We must be content with such small gratitude as this. But it is enough.
It seems that one can have one of two reactions to something like this. We can feel the close brush of the thing we will all eventually face, and be driven inward, fearful. Or, we can realize that Fate comes at a time of her own choosing, and none of us knows the day or the hour. The choice is always between fear and shriveling down, or doing what must be done in spite of the fear.
Life will break you if you let it.
April 24, 2014 ….
On Thursday morning, I woke up feeling funny, my right side partially paralyzed. After waiting far too long, I went to the ER and learned that sometime overnight a tiny blood vessel near the center of my brain on the left side, about the level of my eyes and near the hypothalamus, had been blocked by something. The loss of blood to a tiny, tiny area deep in my brain has made things I took for granted now difficult.
I went to bed feeling normal, woke up a stroke victim.
But, it’s turned out as well as could be expected. I’m home, the symptoms are fading away, and the docs think I should recover completely. I was extremely lucky.
It talking with someone else today I was reminded of this song by Johnny Cash, on the last album he recorded “The Man Comes Around.” The phrase– “whirlwind in the thorn tree –in it sums up the last couple of days, how events can take over and we’re whipped around and wounded, feeling out of control.
One day you’re thinking about ordinary things,
Groceries, taxes, walking the dog, the upcoming weekend,
Problems a friend is having, plans to celebrate a graduation,
Finances, cleaning out the garage,
And all the plans… trips we wanted to take,
Places to finally see, places we put off seeing
Until the kids were launched, happy, safe.
Then we hear thunder over the horizon,
Like the pounding of many hooves,
And the sky darkens, the air grows cold, the sun loses all warmth.
The pounding, the thunder, the messengers’ announcement
Comes up through your feet, sinks into your bones, and you know what it is.
Fear grips your heart, you clutch each other in silent recognition.
Again. Again. Not again.
Plans change in the instant, one one phone call,
Plans are such feeble things, rattled so easily
And so effortlessly by the sound of thunder,
Thudding hooves coming this way, and there is no escape.
Let me hold you tight, whisper in your ear the words I dreaded
I’d say again: “I’ve got you. I’m here. We have to saddle up again. The thunder is coming.
The hurricane will be upon us soon. There isn’t much time.”
Twitter sent this to me this morning, and it struck me that the same could be said of life in 2015. We are not getting better at this task of being fully human, are we?
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love;
William Butler Yeats (/ˈjeɪts/; 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923.
I posted this in June, during recovery. I apologize for the repeat, but this is one of two things I’m adding today in honor of the New Year. I don’t usually wish a Happy New Year, since nothing really is predictable. But I do hope that we all get some wishes answered, and pray you all wish well.
When I was younger, I desperately wanted to see my future, to know what was to be. In my arrogance, I thought I knew everything, and as it turns out, I know next to nothing. Less than nothing sometimes. My ignorance grows with age.
Now, looking back at what things litter the path of my personal journey, the triumphs and the broken bodies, I’m thankful that I didn’t know what was to come. Even the good things, but most certainly the bad. It would have been too much. It would have destroyed me, and, I suspect, it would destroy most of us.
I don’t know much, but think this much is true. We’re here to get through it somehow, and to learn what we can, but only one day at a time. Or, sometimes, just one hour at a time. That, and it’s important to learn how to be kind.
More knowing would fill us with grief and fear and tear us apart. We just aren’t strong enough to handle it.
Let the young believe that they know everything, though. We need their optimism and energy. Life will teach them too. It always does. But we should not wish to see the future. We should wish to live each day to the hilt, we should hope we have the courage to face what comes, and the future will take care of itself.
From a scene in “The Passenger”, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson as reporter named Locke:
by Emily Dickinson
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea –
Past the houses – past the headlands –
Into deep Eternity!
Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land.
Repost. I go back to this video every few months. Not to plump for Apple, but because I find this inspiring.
I usually spend some prep time reading– books, poems, other bloggers, quotes — before writing. The quote at the bottom is one that hit me today as I was looking for something to help a young friend find the courage to plunge ahead, not knowing how things will turn out. We just move forward, into the mist that is the future, and if we’re lucky, we learn to embrace the unknown with love.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.—Steve Jobs
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
—But it’s nicer here…
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—But we have to sleep sometime…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
WHEN Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs, he forgot the copperheads and the assassin … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street, cash and collateral turned ashes … in the dust, in the cool tombs.
Pocahontas’ body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in November or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she remember?… in the dust, in the cool tombs?
Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries, cheering a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin horns … tell me if the lovers are losers … tell me if any get more than the lovers … in the dust … in the cool tombs.
A homeless man gets a little help, a little touch of kindness. A little less bleakness.
I don’t want much:
I want to be happy.
I want to live forever.
I want to face no consequences. Ever.
That’s not much, is it?
I want to never live through another hot, humid day. Or a cold one.
I want it to rain when I want,
And be sunny and mild the rest of the time.
I want to chase Spring around the planet, skip
August, January, February and half of March.
I want a 5-series Beamer. Midnight blue. Just for Tuesdays.
The other days I’d like a Ferrari to drive down to my yacht.
Where I’d make love until dinner.
And then after.
I want to be 35 again, knowing what I know now.
(Not my 20s again. God, no. Everyone’s an idiot in their 20s.
No offense intended. But it’s true.)
I want to stop realizing that each day might be my last.
That one’s new. That’s the one that’s true. That’s the one I hate.
The other things are lies I tell myself.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow it’s mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air.
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.
Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all.
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.
Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
I need an editor. Everyone needs an editor. A good editor.
NOTE: I am an official fossil. Can’t help that. At least I haven’t shouted “you kids get off my lawn” in… forever. But this rant will sound like I have, I suppose.
This is like a notice on an adult site, though. Don’t read on unless you’re over the age of consent.
I learned the craft of writing at the knees of editors who were hard nosed, but not hard-hearted. They demanded the best, until that’s what I could give them. I have had stories (on paper; told you I was old) balled up and thrown at my head. One quite literally was hummed from across the newsroom and stuck in my ear. That guy had one hell of an arm! Can you imagine such a thing these days? He’d be sent to a re-education camp now, probably. Or go through a shaming ritual on Twitter. (I shed a nostalgic tear for the good old days. 🙂 )
I get the feeling that most people go through school and early professional life not being put through the grinder like that. That’s a damned shame, frankly. It wasn’t fun at the time, but I grew a thick skin and higher expectations. Those editors who reacted with anger to poorly written stories got angry because they cared. Deeply cared about the words, about the story, about the truth of things. I learned.
Before anyone leaps to the defense of the beginners and seekers who are blogging, allow me to insert a disclaimer: I’m not thinking of those who are here because they are looking to unburden themselves of something heavy and awful. I’ve read a lot of these writers with awe, many of whom have enormous talent, latent or otherwise. And the cries from their souls would tear a hole in Heaven and make the angels weep. They just need to be heard, and get a helping hand. But I argue that there’s a goal more lofty than just feeling good. It’s being good.
They can be very, very good if they keep at it and refuse to accept easy answers. Along the way, they will probably face doubts and pain every single day. It doesn’t really get pain-free; you just learn to keep going. Some have actual physical pain and they keep going. If they can, we can.
The struggles writers go through are pure raw material that, properly crafted, can be spun into gold. There are only two ways to do that: write, incessantly, and seek out a good editor to keep you honest and moving toward higher ground like you’re escaping Noah’s flood.
It’s acquiring the craft I’m talking about, and do not claim I have achieved any 20th degree black belt, either. I haven’t. I’ve been working at this for nearly 50 years and I look at a lot of what I write now with disgust. I’ve just learned to accept that as a cost of doing business, a challenge, and throw the crap back in the hopper and work it like an eel wrangler hoping to turn those wriggly bastards into rope.
So, back to the premise of the rant.
If I want to call myself a writer, in the professional sense, I cannot thrive or grow without a good editor. Even someone who’s main goal is to work the knots out of their lives can use simple feedback on technique, if they’ll listen. “Do more of this, less of that. That part doesn’t make sense to me. What if you moved this phrase up there? Poor spelling hurts readership, and muddies your story. Buy a dictionary. Buy a thesaurus. Buy Strunk and White’s ‘Elements of Style.’ ” This helps you cultivate that little voice in your head that learns to stand off to the side, the objective observer, the voice that is both friend and judge.
A good editor is not your best friend who tells you she loves everything and nods sympathetically at everything you say. She’s the kind of best friend who will call you on your bullshit and help you find a better way. This person will call crap what it is, and you will listen if you give a damn and if you want to be any good. It takes enormous hubris to sit down at a keyboard and write, and enormous humility to be any good at it. Nobody grows if all they hear are soothing words. You need to seek out honest critics and humble yourself. And then write, write, write.
That is, we will if we want to be any good. If we want to be more than good. If we want to be the best we can possibly be.
It isn’t fun, and isn’t supposed to be.
The sayings about this are plentiful. I told someone when I started on the book that it was easy. I just locked myself in a cabin for four days (true), smashed myself in the face with the laptop (not literally) until I lost some teeth and the words started to come. I came down off the mountain and worked for a couple of months, and then had a good friend who used to edit a magazine read it. She really let me have it, the good and the bad. She’s a pro. I listened. I have rewritten it all twice since then, and will probably have to do it more.
A good editor is your best mentor, and the callouses you grow on your fragile ego will let you push on through the hard times when the words dry up. A good editor will push you on when you want to lie down and settle for second-best. A good editor isn’t a bully, but a coach, a friend, an AA sponsor, the hand wielding a whip when you need it most — which is usually when you think you don’t.
Such a person is a pearl of great price—hard to find. In a pinch, however, find writers you KNOW are loads better than you and read, read, read.
Like your life depended on it.
Because it does.
Sometimes, it looks like there’s no way, but there is always a way.
To do the impossible.
To survive the unsurvivable.
To move the unmoveable.
There’s always a way.
You just need to look long enough, to find a way.
In the face of the impossible, you can survive.
You can be frightened, there’s no shame in that,
Because we all are.
All you have to do is put a face on it.
So you can beat it.
If you are frightened today,
Do not be scared of it.
Draw your inspiration from it.
I’m really not feeling morbid, but the well-examined life always includes thoughts of the end that comes to all, that final journey into the “undiscovered country.” My thought is always that it’s better to stare everything in the face than to be afraid and pretend. It just doesn’t change some things. Turns out we humans have been thinking about this for a long time. I also believe that we think about death, but then grab a bottle of wine, a pretty girl, and make love without care or regret.
From an unknown Athenian.
c. 305 BC / Athens
When you’re moved to find out who you are,
study the graves you encounter as you pass by.
Inside rest the bones and weightless dust
of men once kings and tyrants, wise men, and those
who took pride in their noble birth or wealth,
their fame, or their beautiful bodies.
Yet what good was any of that against time?
All mortals come to know Hades in the end.
Look toward these to know who you are.
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.
What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
This is so well said, but the imagery of the failure pill was what grabbed me.
Take the pill of failure upon your tongue, roll it around until the flavor fills your mouth and penetrates your senses and mind, but never, ever swallow it whole. Let the taste flow through your consciousness, store the memory for days to come and spit it out when you’ve taken what you need.
Never let failure enter your system fully or it will be with you forever. Let the sensation return when you need it most, when the days grow dark and cold, and when you feel the icy, numbing touch of personal crisis around your throat. Use your failure to fuel your hunger for success. Let it be your companion all of your days, but refuse to let it take root in your center, lest it consume you.
And yes, I carry luggage for a living – and…
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I don’t know what will happen tomorrow,
I don’t know if someone amazing will cross my path,
Or the proverbial bus takes me out, instead.
There are no guarantees; life is a crazy ride,
A moving surprise. Yet despite the fear of this,
Despite a strong desire to give up and lie down,
I’m beginning, after all these years,
To lean into it more and more,
I feel it in my chest, a bubbling laughter that’s
Finding its way out, and it’s there more and more.
Somehow it means being
Open to amazing people and avoiding buses,
Doing things that used to scare me,
And wondering if you can surprise me
And make me glad we are
Both alive in this place, in this time,
To laugh and feast on life and love forever.
Well, can you? Surprise me?
We tell lies when we are afraid…afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger
– tad williams
My greatest strength
Over my own life
In the moment
Dreams and goals.
Lift off from Addis,
Floating above Africa.
Count the stars for me.
It’s gonna be a busy day at work as I’m back after a 5-day break. It was productive, though, as there are now many more words in the can on the book. I’m just tossing this at you for a place-holder. I don’t feel old, but that’s a relative thing. If you’re in your 20s – 40s I qualify, probably. You may think you’re old when you hit 30 or 40, but trust me, you’ve only just hit the half-way mark. My advice? Don’t dwell on it too much. You’ll just make yourself look somewhat daft and whiny. Yes, it’s a shock when you realize the opposite sex doesn’t see you the same way as before, and sometimes doesn’t see you AT ALL!!!! But you’ll get where I am, too, if you’re lucky. Suck the marrow out of life as you go and keep your eye on the horizon. You’ll be fine. 🙂
I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.
“VII.” by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010.
On a beach somewhere
A flash of thigh, a sigh,
Sidelong glances, mysterious smile,
Hints of pleasure,
Share glimpses of your heat:
Is this revelation of desire?
Or wrinkles in the mirror,
Dame Mortality slithering near,
Beside you, mocking?
The old tricks don’t work as they did,
Do they? A cold stab of fear.
I’ve felt it too. We all do.
Let me see your secret selves
The parts you don’t like
And the parts you do.
I can already see them, but
It doesn’t matter to me. But you
Need to quit pretending
They matter to you.
Then let’s take it from there, shall we?
We’ll sit on a beach and watch the sunrise,
Dig our toes in the sand,
Sing our sad songs one last time,
Let the gulls and crabs scavenge them.
So the healing can come in
With the tide.
“Worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.”
Oh, and wear sunscreen. Lots of it.
There. That should do it.
Diving into a difficult part of Running Girl this morning, and as I sometimes do, I get warmed up by reading better writers. This is one of those, and it fits the tone of today’s chapter. Hamlet is musing about why we put up with all of life’s pains and disappointments, if not simply for the fear of what we’ll face on the other side of life, in that great “undiscovered country” from which no one ever returns.
To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered
NOTE: I’m doing some heavy revisions on this and the other excerpts. This scene will remain fundamentally the same, but I’m seeing Eleanor in this version now as a little too much the bimbo. She’s not that at all, really. So I’m removing the more graphic sexual overtones, as i don’t want that part to give the wrong impression about her.
‘Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.’ : “Where there is life, there is hope.”
Her captor moved Eleanor, half-walking, half-flying, from the bedroom to the family room and threw her face-down on the couch. Her head throbbed and she almost passed out again. She turned her head a bit to see him from the corner of her eye. His strength made any resistance pointless.
He pulled a pistol from under his jacket — probably a holster in the back on his belt, she noted automatically. All she really wanted to do was let the blackness overwhelm her, to make the pain stop.
But the training, and the way her brain was wired, meant she couldn’t NOT notice these things. They used to call it a photographic memory. It was just a thing she was able to do, like breathing. Noted and filed: A black Beretta 92. Sixteen rounds, if he had one in the chamber, she thought automatically. Not everyone did, for fear of accidentally shooting oneself in the butt or leg. So, 15. Probably.
“Don’t move,” he ordered. From a side pocket of his jacket, he pulled out plastic zip ties. He cinched one too tightly, around her ankles.
“Put your hands behind your back,” he barked. She slowly complied and he cinched another zip tie around wrists. Her knees were on the floor now and her ankles were secure and he had the gun on her.
“Turn over,” he said.
She rolled to her right with difficulty and slid her rump onto the carpeted floor, her legs bent to the side. It was uncomfortable, but she could stand it. She shifted until her hands were in a less painful position and got her first good look at him.
The guy was about six feet away, feet apart for balance, up on the balls of his feet. He was 6’2” or 6’3” and around 235 to 240 pounds, she guessed. His shoulders were broad, but he stood with a slight hunch, the parts of his face she could see through the mask felt as though it was crimped in a perpetual bad mood. The eyes were brown and sunken in rolls of skin, and at first seemed to miss nothing. But then they’d occasionally lose focus and dart around.
Weird. She could feel the anger and sadism in him. That gave her an idea.
He was strong, she knew that, but had gotten a little thick around the middle. His legs were short and the muscles of the thighs were tight inside his cargo pants. He wore the same black outfit as the other man: ski mask, black military style winter parka with no markings, black pants and laced black military-style boots. Gloves. Thin leather ones. He carried himself like he’d had military training, but had let himself go a little.
She looked again at the eyes — brown, flecks of gold, a little crazy — and saw that he was watching her.
Stepping closer, he used the barrel of the pistol to flip both sides of her robe open, uncovering the full length of her legs. He let out a little sigh.
“Nice. Very nice.” he said.
OK, so this was how it was going to go.
Guys had been hitting on her since she was 11. They usually weren’t pointing guns at her, but that was just a minor detail at this point. She knew the urges in those eyes very well. She’d never been raped before, though, unless you counted that one time in college when she’d gotten too drunk at a party and… well, she just wasn’t eager to find out what the real thing was like.
She looked down, put a look of fear on her face, then slowly looked back up. “I hope this looks scared,” she thought.
“Don’t hurt me, please,” she said. “I don’t know why you’re here”—which was true—“Let me go, and I won’t say anything.”
Fat chance of that, she thought, but it was worth a shot.
“Shut up,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”
But he kept looking at the parts of her peeking out from the silk robe. The fabric didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, either. She leaned forward a little and her robe fell open more.
His eyes widened involuntarily.
“Gotcha, pervert” she thought to herself.
“Just don’t hurt me,” she said out loud, wriggling a little for effect.
“I’ll do whatever I want, sweetheart,” he said, licking his lips involuntarily, red spots starting to bloom in each cheek.
“I—I know,” she stammered. “I already know that. You’re strong, I’m tied up and you have the gun. You can do what you want and I can’t stop you. But…” she hesitated.
“But what?” he asked, despite himself.
“But it doesn’t have to be bad for me, does it? I mean, you like me…I can see it. I would rather cooperate than get hurt any more. I don’t have to draw a map, do I? Do what you want, and then let me go, OK?”
He just snorted.
“I don’t need your cooperation. I think I’ll just take what I want from you. And we’ll still do what we came here for. I know about you, Eleanor…. Or whatever your name is. Ex-water-rat, right? You’re just a Navy whore, trying to do a man’s job. So drop the coy young thing act. It ain’t gonna work.”
“Shit!” she thought, again, then took a shot in the dark. This guy had a certain feeling about him. Maybe it was the body language.
“Ah. A jar-head,” she said, leaning back a bit and trying to project as much arrogant contempt as possible. “Thought I smelled the stupid. You reek of it.”
The age-old insult of Navy to Marine hit home. He tensed and his beady eyes narrowed some more.
Bingo. Now to work this a little.
She was the daughter and sister of Marines, and had heard the stories all her life. They thought Navy officers were stuck up preppies, and saw red when talked down to. She joined the Navy, over their half-hearted objections, because there were more opportunities for women at the time. So, they conducted a little training and orientation program of their own before she left for Annapolis. Where to go, and not go; who to avoid; when to fight and when to run; and how to fight dirty when cornered.
They also taught her to take the initiative, especially when in a weak position. Surprise and aggression, especially when coming from a woman and the adversary is male, were always advantages. A bold move can change your luck.
She sighed a little to herself, knowing what was coming next.
“This is going to get ugly, father of mine,” she said in her head.
“Let’s hope you’ve learned how to take a punch, daughter of mine” she heard her father’s voice say in her ear.
“I’m about to find out,” she answered. “I’ll get back to you.”
She straightened up and pinned Brown Eyes with The Look, the command look of superiority and dismissal: me big shot officer, you toe-jam-moron-cannon-fodder inferior, it said.
“Yeah, I was in the Navy. But even as a woman I’m a better man than you, Jar Head. Did your partner dress you today, or have you learned how to do that yourself? I like your style sense, though. Very feminine. ”
She never saw him move, just had the impression of a blur. He grunted once and a vicious blow exploded against the side of her head and she fell over again. She passed out for a time, but woke as his arm circled her belly and he lifted her body roughly onto the couch, her knees on the carpet and face mashed into the cushion. He flipped the hem of her robe up above her waist and ripped her panties off.
She heard him loosen his belt buckle and pull his zipper down and forced one last insult out. Or thought she did. It seemed like she was in a dream again. She turned her head and sneered out of the side of her mouth, every word causing pain stabs in her head.
“So it’s rape now? Christ. Fine. Get it over with so I can compare you with a real man. If I can even feel it. But the least you could do is loosen my ankles. I won’t put up a fight, but at least do that,” she snapped, trying to sound bored and contemptuous at the same time.
He paused. She could almost feel him shrug and then he cut the thin plastic strip from her ankles. She gritted her teeth and tamped down the shame. Just get through it. Stay alive. Get loose. Escape. And maybe kill this guy. That would be a bonus.
He kicked her knees apart with his foot, the soles of his boots smacking the bones. More pain. His aroused breathing was loud. She steeled herself for the next pain, reminding herself that it really wasn’t a big deal, being raped. She’d get over it. It would be just like the gyno exam, without the fun parts. She was on the pill, so wouldn’t get pregnant.
“Any help here, father of mine?”
“Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter of mine. Stay alive. Whatever you have to do, stay alive.”
This raced through her mind, just ahead of the fear. She was in charge. She was no victim. At least she would stay alive a little longer. She briefly imagined the look on Brown Eyes’ face when she cinched his balls with one of those zip ties. Sheep farmers used rubber bands to castrate ram lambs. Seemed appropriate to see how it worked on a grown man, she mused, consciously thinking of anything other than what he was about to do to her.
The voice of the other man yelled from the bedroom.
“Hey, what’s taking so long out there? Get your ass back in here. She’ll keep.”
“Goddammit!” Brown Eyes growled through clenched teeth. “Goddammit!” His hand was on her hip, he was up against her and she felt his hardness and his body trembling.
He hesitated, fumbled with his pants and belt then cursed again. He was afraid of the other man, that much was clear. He put another plastic handcuff strip around her ankles, but she held her feet as far apart as possible and he wasn’t careful. There was some slack this time. He thrust his hand between her legs and grabbed her there roughly and squeezed hard. Pain shot up through her stomach.
She rolled over and sat on the floor again, ears cocked intently until she heard the voices in the bedroom. They were far enough away that she couldn’t make out all of the words, but soon she heard Henry’s voice raised in fear and there was the wet, thwunk of fist striking flesh. Henry grunted loudly followed by the sound of retching.
Henry. He was a crooked banker and twisted in some other ways that repelled her, but these guys were seriously evil. He had no chance.
As the sounds of angry questions, hitting and sobs and grunts continued from the bedroom, she got her feet under her enough to leverage herself erect. Listening for a moment and hearing no one coming, she hopped tentatively to the end of the couch, leaning against it for support. With a little work, she managed to slip one foot and then the other out of the restraint. She stopped to listen and then hurried five feet across the open tile to the kitchen. One foot was nearly asleep and tingling, and she nearly fell, her wrists were still tied behind her, and she couldn’t stop the fall. The counter corner’s point jabbed her hip hard enough to make her clamp her jaws to keep a cry of pain from escaping. She worked her way around to the drawer with the knives.
Opening it as quietly as she could, she backed up to it and clawed fingers around until she felt the handle of a knife near the front. She flipped the blade vertical and quickly sawed through the plastic strip holding her wrists. She stopped again to listen to see if she’d attracted any attention, rubbing feeling back into her hands as she did so, but the voices from the bedroom continued. Eleanor stepped to another drawer, holding the knife pointed in the direction of the bedroom, and grabbed the spare keys for the SUV. Then she saw the Sig sitting on the counter where she’d left it, dropped the knife and pulled the gun out of it’s holster.
She heard Henry’s voice rise to a scream, cut off abruptly by the unmistakable sharp hiss of a silencer. Then another shot.
The short, unhappy life of Henry Bouchier had ended, just like that.
They would come for her next.
Time to go.
She sprinted on bare feet across the family room, through the mud room and into the garage. She reached the SUV in three strides and opened the weapons bag she’d put under the driver’s seat. She pulled out one of the Glocks, checked that it was loaded and pulled the slide to put a round in the chamber.
She closed the door softly, locked all doors with the remote on the keychain, tucked the Sig in the robe’s left pocket, leapt to an outside door beside the overhead garage door and opened it. A gust of cold air swirled in with a cloud of fir needles and dead leaves.
The dry ground wouldn’t show tracks but they might think she’d gone that way. A trackless forest of fir trees was across the road, too. Glancing quickly outside to make sure one of the men wasn’t coming on her flank, she turned and headed to an area next to some open metal shelving on an inside wall of the garage.
Pushing aside a calendar hanging from a hook, she pressed a small button that looked like a pine knot. A soft click sounded and a panel in the wall popped open an inch. The edges of the opening matched the lines of the pine paneling that covered that wall, and when closed were invisible from the outside. It had taken her the better part of an hour to find it earlier, and even with the help of the blueprints, she’d missed the cleverly disguised button twice before she saw it.
The bottom of the compartment was two feet from the floor, its top less than four feet above that. It extended left of the opening, about three feet wide and too short to stand up in. But, it was large enough to hold two or three large suitcases—or a federal agent, if she doubled her knees up to her chin and backed in, squeezing her body in tight.
She hopped on her butt into the opening scooted back until she could pull her legs and feet in and gather in her robe. She realized that there was nothing on the inside to use to pull the door shut at first, and began to panic. Then, frantically scanning around the edges, she saw a screw head sticking out a half-inch, about halfway up the door’s outer edge. She pulled the door shut with just two fingernails clutching the screw and gratefully heard the latch click just as her attacker’s angry voice boomed a foot away, outside.
“Come to Papa!”
She heard the sounds of violent searching in the garage, doors opening and slamming, objects crashing to the floor, cursing.
Something heavy slammed against the door of the compartment. She raised the gun in the dark and held it steady where she pictured his head would be— just in case the latch opened. She had a vision of the perplexed expression he would have on his face when she put a small round hole into the exact center of his forehead.
She rested arms on knees, both hands holding the gun steady at the height she thought would be about right, took a deep, shuddering breath or two to calm her heart and waited.
One corner of her mouth twitched upward, and she waited in the darkness.
The world around us is always pushing this notion of “perfection” and, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder what “reality” looks like. All the models are tall and thin and young with poofy lips (and men have their own variety of the super model stereotype). They have fabulous clothes and new cars and go on expensive vacations.
Even our homes! When I look around my house that’s littered with toys, my sink full of dishes and two baskets full of laundry (even though I just DID laundry) I wonder what a real home is supposed to look like? Where do I fit? Sure NOT on Pinterest.
Granted, there are areas I KNOW I am slacking (*cough* Christmas tree is STILL standing) and let’s not talk about the state of my drawers and closets. But, I generally (when the…
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Previous chapter excerpts:
Ch. 2: “Captured”
The British Airways jet with Das aboard hurried up and away from the simmering city, as eager as its passengers to find its natural frigid, silent and pure habitat five miles above. In minutes, it reached its cruising altitude and leveled out, the endless brown wrinkles of the Earth’s dry crust creeping past far below. The pilot radioed position and altitude and let the autopilot steer the nose unerringly toward London.
The crew relaxed and called for coffee. The co-pilot winked at the dark-skinned flight attendant who brought it, making sure the captain was looking away. She smiled and leaned to the left to give the captain his coffee. As she did, she felt a hand slip up her skirt and almost giggled. Then flashed a mock-angry glare at the copilot. Wait until we land for that, the look said.
The captain pretended not to notice, and thought of his son in London, wondering if he had gotten to school yet, and then whether the co-pilot and attendant’s affair would become obvious enough that he would have to take some action. That reminded him of his own dalliance 20 years before with another black-eyed beauty, dead these many years in a car accident. The memory of her still hurt after all these years. He hoped these two beside him had a happier future.
As the plane cruised toward the North Pole and Heathrow, a man slept fitfully in a darkened bedroom a few miles north of Vancouver, Washington. He snored, one foot twitching under silk sheets.
Henry Bourchier’s house was silent save for the ticking of a hallway tall clock. A full moon glowed in a black sky upon which shards of stars glittered and danced. The house squatted in a woodsy development of fat, cheaply-built boxes financed with creative mortgages.
The homes were a splatter of faux-French country styles, pseudo-Victorians, and utterly bland modernistic pretensions with concrete and glass walls trimmed in wood-grained vinyl siding. Each was a discrete distance from its neighbor—set at angles and with strategic hedges and plantings to maximize privacy— so that each was just barely visible through trees. The housing market was still dead there, and most of the houses were worth a fraction of the debt the fools within carried. Appearances were important, though, and it was still possible to pretend they were well-off, even those who had lost their jobs two years before and were merely squatting until the eviction notices were enforced. Everyone knew who they were.
More than one resident lay staring in the dark, fear slithering into their ears like worms from the shadows.
Struggling dwarf ornamentals from a bankrupt garden center, more aliens in this wilderness land, clung guiltily to the margins of the lawn. Douglas firs, so tall they seemed to touch at the tips, marched hundreds of miles into the unforgiving mountain crags beyond, looming over the suburban intruders below with deep-green, powerless resentment. The trees swayed in the nighttime breeze. Air muttered around the black trunks and rough bark. A few yards into the forest, where needles lay in thick carpets, noises of the civilized world gave up and disappeared.
A paved driveway led from a country road to Bourchier’s faux-villa. His was safe from the predations of bankers, though, because he was one of the predators. His home was also better-built than the others, and both factors gave him great satisfaction. His bank held the mortgages on a few of his neighbors’ houses, but he did not concern himself with their worries. He had lawyers and a corporation and other, worse men behind him; they did not.
He was also a thief in the traditional sense, although these days the two occupations were almost the same thing. Money and debt were the least of his worries, or so he thought. His dreams were free of the living nightmare that would momentarily rip his brief, shallow, amoral life apart.
Two cars sat on virgin concrete in front of the three-car garage: a midnight blue BMW and a small SUV.
Bourchier drove the BMW between the house and the suburban Vancouver bank where he was vice president—and secret money launderer for Seattle drug bosses and other, even more shadowy connections.
But he did like nice things. Oh yes, he surely did.
His silk pajamas boasted a label from an exclusive Seattle boutique that catered to those who equated price with quality because they didn’t know any better and had too much money to care. The bed sheets and cover were of similar impressiveness, as was nearly everything in the house. Some of it was even good. He hoped his expensive tastes were just inconspicuous enough to avoid tripping any wires at the IRS.
He was careful.
Unfortunately, he made mistakes. Little ones. But wires had been tripped. He wasn’t as careful — or nearly as smart — as he believed he was.
His mistakes were exposed by a former employee he’d slept with. Unfortunately for him, and still seething with anger after he dumped her, she started sleeping with a small-time drug dealer and appliance repairman. The two were busted during a nooner in a motel room one weekday afternoon.
She’d offered information about Henry in exchange for leniency. The local DA, who was hoping to get noticed at higher levels, let her off with a suspended sentence and a blow job, but bounced the information up to the US Attorney. They’d both gone to Stanford Law, and he hoped his old classmate would overlook certain personal failings in the drinking and carousing departments, and rescue him from this backwater job.
Details of Henry Bourchier’s life had been filling electronic files in Seattle, Portland and Washington for six months, like little flakes of snow drifting against a door until millions of them push the door down.
Initial interest led to secret spot audits, which yielded enough to get a referral for further investigation — all done as silently as an owl swooping down on an unsuspecting rabbit.
He slept, serene, although his slumber had also been given some chemical assistance.
A Treasury agent, on loan to the FBI interagency task force, roamed the home after putting a little something harmless in his drink. Henry believed she had come to his home from the bar, and after going to a shooting range, for a little frolic between the high-priced sheets. He also thought coming here had been his idea. She had made sure that no one else knew she was there.
Eleanor—that was the name she gave Henry— spent two hours examining the house inch by inch, and found piles of cash, many, many piles, hidden in nylon duffels in several cleverly concealed compartments around the house.
This was expected, and blueprints obtained from the architect were of great help. The SUV was hers, and it carried what she needed. She lugged identical nylon duffles from in from it, each holding many, many new bundles of cash impregnated with electronic “fairy dust” that turned each bill into a radio transmitter. She exchanged the treated currency for the old bundles, which she wrapped in plastic using disposable gloves, and packed them in the zippered bags. It took several trips to complete the exchange, but finally the SUV had nearly $300,000 stowed under the rear compartment’s floor where the spare tire usually rode.
The rear floor of the SUV held another bag that held Eleanor’s other tools: a shotgun, a new Glock 20 10mm auto with a 15-shot magazine and laser sight; a Glock 17 with ammo. An older, compact Sig Sauer 1911 pistol in it’s holster rested on top. The latter was not government-issue, and was untraceable. She usually wore it tucked at the small of her back, and while it was a bit heavy fully loaded (almost two pounds), and only held seven rounds, it was both a last resort and a throwaway if thinks got seriously fucked.
She left the weapons in the SUV, took the Sig and a travel bag from the back seat and went inside to do a final cleanup tour and change. Henry would wake up refreshed, if somewhat confused and with no memory of the time just before he took the drugged drink. She planned to leave no clues that she had been there. The stuff she’d slipped into Henry’s drink wouldn’t wear off for a while longer, she decided, glancing at a wristwatch and feeling pleased with her work.
A grandfather’s clock — an 1800s Philadelphia model restored at great expense — struck 2 a.m. from its post in the front room. She didn’t know when she’d have the chance again to get clean — and the work she’d just done had been hot and she was starting to notice her own odor— so she took a quick shower in a spare bath.
She checked Henry to see if he was stirring and, hearing only low snores, decided she could pause for a few moments. She donned panties and bra and a silk robe from her travel bag. The silk was warm for it’s weight, and it packed in very small package. Her dark hair, still damp from the shower, tumbled over the collar.
She put the Sig on the counter and looked through Henry’s extensive liquor collection. She mixed a Godmother, a favorite—an expensive Italian amaretto and a couple of fingers of A-list vodka in a tumbler, added ice, and swished it around in the glass until it was cold. The sweet aroma of apricots and almonds touched her nose as she sipped, and she savored the burn of vodka as it slipped down the back of her throat. She padded silently to the family room across a wide tile area that led to a sliding glass patio door and stood looking out. Another sip.
The floor-length white robe swayed from the curve of breast and hip like something from a 1930s Hollywood film. Tall and full-figured but trim, she glided with a natural, sensuous grace that could turn heads even in Monaco’s casinos. In fact, on one assignment, she’d done just that. No one expected someone that looked like she did to be as deadly as she was, which came in handy more than once.
The kitchen waited in gloom. Vague shapes of appliances and counters and hanging pot racks—all seldom used—were just visible. Before her, the double French patio doors framed a deck with a gas grill, outdoor chairs and a table still shrouded in their winter plastic covers. The moon lit a few yards of grass, bleaching it of all color. Shadows of the fir forest fell across the lawn halfway to the deck, as the moon was fairly high in the sky. The edge of the woods was as black as a mine shaft. She stood close to the door, sipping her drink and soaking in the scene. The moonlight draped her form in the same pale aura as the lawn. Her pose in the window conjured a marble statue of some long-forgotten Greek goddess.
The tall clock ticked softly in the background. She held the glass below her lips in one hand, with the other arm folded across her waist. She swirled the liquid in the glass with small movements, taking a sip every so often. It was the first quiet she’d had in weeks, and the liquor and the moonlight lulled her into dreaminess.
The drink was almost gone by the time the clock behind her bonged three times, the sudden sound filling the room. The SUV was packed, her gear was stowed, and the vehicle was fully fueled. It was time to get dressed. Henry would be waking soon wondering what had happened. By that time, she would be miles away.
As the last echoes of the chimes died away, a whisper like a feather touched her ear, but so faint she was not sure she heard it.
She took a final sip of the drink, tipping the glass up to get the last of the sweet, golden liquid. She sucked a piece of ice into her mouth and crunched it between her back teeth, enjoying the shock of cold and the noise, just like when she was a little girl.
A shadow flitted through the air beside her. Before she could react, an arm clamped around her throat like a steel hawser, cut off her air and pulled her back, off-balance. A vice crushed her wrist and pulled her hand and arm painfully up between her shoulder blades. In the same moment, the unseen hand and arm turned her body over and her bare feet were kicked out from under her.
The floor rushed up at her in slow motion. She heard a wet crunch and felt a sickening hot jolt as her forehead bounced on the cold tile. Pain exploded behind her eyes and shock surged through her body. A knee jammed in the small of her back, knocking the air from her lungs. She felt her cheek pressed into the cold floor and smelled blood and male sweat just before a wave of nausea rippled through her and a reddish-black mist filled her vision.
“Bring ‘er,” a voice snapped from somewhere in the fog.
Eleanor gasped for air as the weight lifted from her back. In almost the same second, a hand clenched into her hair and pulled her to her feet, the other arm still pinned painfully at her back.
The room whirled. She vomited as spikes penetrated into her brain.
The hands controlling her shook her like a rag doll. She was dimly aware that her unseen master moved out of the way of the puke and then yanked her down the darkened hall through a doorway into Henry’s bedroom. Her legs rubbery, she felt like she was out of her body and flying along like a leaf in the wind….
(Reposted.) Ol’ Rudyard’s ghost has his imperialist legacy, but this advice seems valid still for sons–but daughters, as well.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
I love this woman!
‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…’
— Jack Kerouac
A note. I post a mixture of things from other blogs and sources, and while this is kind of raw, it is a poignant account.
This past weekend we took a little family vacation and went dog sledding with our son, Wyatt. We had a great time and it is a family memory we will have forever. As we create new family memories with our son, we do so without the fourth member of our family. Olivia, our beautiful daughter, is an angel in Heaven. She is forever 20 months and 3 days old.
As we experience life with Wyatt we know that these new memories don’t include his twin sister. She is always in our hearts and our thoughts but it’s not the same. As we were pulled through the trail by the pack of beautiful dogs I kept thinking we are missing one. Olivia would absolutely love this! She would have thought it was hysterical to see the dogs playing and how excited they were. She would have thought the cold was funny…
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Note: This was written a while ago, in the depths. Since this one, last June there was a fourth (3 were breast cancers). Like all the other times, she came through it OK.
Three cancers, different each time.
I watched you climb the stairs, two steps,
Then a pause, a rest, then on up like that.
Your stubborn courage gave me courage.
If you could do it, so could I.
We were so innocent, once, you and I,
Young and Beautiful. But since then
Death has taken a seat at the table,
Waiting to be fed.
We learned to ignore him, mock him,
But he doesn’t care. He gets us all in the end.
Hard lesson: accept that, but never surrender.
Can I keep going,
Keep plugging along, keep a happy thought?
I am so tired.
It just wears a person down, and I’m not even the sick one.
My burden is hidden to everyone but me.
At times like this, I just want someone to turn back the clock
And let me be a child again, scampering off to play
And jump in rain puddles until I’m called into supper.
I’ll just have a glass of wine and write a few words.
It’s all I have, all I can do.
There’s always tomorrow.
We just have to make it through the nights. The nights…
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